Panasonic TX-55DX650 review

The 55DX650 has a few things going for it, but the panel at its heart isn't one of them

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

With a price tag of just £849, the Panasonic 55DX650 is more evidence of just how quickly 4K/UHD TVs are becoming mainstream. You get a slick Firefox-based smart TV system alongside the millions of pixels, and a sleek design. Unfortunately, the whole show is let down by the set's IPS panel, which simply can't deliver on black levels and contrast.

For

  • Attractive, premium-looking design
  • Affordable for 4K
  • Excellent smart TV interface
  • Good HD upscaling

Against

  • Poor contrast
  • No HDR support
  • Dark images post calibration
  • Some unnatural colours

As if the TV buying world wasn't already complicated enough, it turns out we're entering another period of alternative standards and expanded options. Now you don't just have to choose between HD resolution and UHD resolution for your next TV; you also have to decide if you want high dynamic range and wide colour gamut technologies alongside the UHD/4K resolution.

The Panasonic 55DX650 sits in the middle of this new three-tier TV world. Which is to say – if you've already lost count – that it offers a native 4K resolution, but doesn't stretch to high dynamic range support.

Obviously it's a shame on one level that the 55DX650 doesn't do HDR, given how amazing HDR can look when it's done well. But then experience suggests that it's pretty unlikely that a screen as affordable as the 55DX650 would have been able to do HDR well…

Design

The home for the 55DX650's UHD screen is very attractive. Its slender frame combines a see-through top layer and a cool grey lower layer to create an eye-catching, almost three-dimensional design effect, while its legs can be mounted with either their curved ends or their straight ends to the fore.

Panasonic TX 55DX650 review

This is hardly customisation on the level you get with high-end brands like Loewe or Bang & Olufsen, but frankly, at this price point I'll take any flexibility I can get. Plus, handily, the legs actually look pretty attractive, whichever way round you mount them.

Shifting attention to the 55DX650's rear, the set sports a solid rather than spectacular set of connections. Three HDMIs will provide the main port of call for most external sources – although you should note that only two of these HDMIs are equipped with HDCP 2.2 anti-piracy protocols, and the capability to play 4K at up to 60 frames a second.

Connectivity

When it comes to multimedia support you're looking at a pair of USBs (many higher-end TVs offer three now), and streaming from DLNA-enabled devices on your network. In an ideal world the 55DX650 would also support Bluetooth, and join some of its Panasonic brethren in carrying an SD card slot for direct playback from the memory cards now used in the majority of digital cameras and camcorders; but for £849, an ideal world was never really an option.

Looking at the 55DX650's screen technology, the news is distinctly mixed. On the upside it backs up its native Ultra HD resolution with direct LED lighting – something that experience shows generally leads to superior contrast performance. It's also a 'Bright Panel', offering slightly enhanced light levels and a wider colour spectrum than basic LCD panels.

Panel problems

The bad news is that it uses an IPS type of LCD panel, rather than the more reliable 'VA' type.

The problem with IPS panels traditionally is that while they deliver slightly better effective viewing angles than VA panels (handy if it's hard for your whole family to always sit directly opposite the screen), this slightly improved viewing angle comes at the expense of good black colour reproduction.

Panasonic TX 55DX650 review

I guess all we can do is hope that the direct LED lighting system, together with Panasonic's usually strong light control systems, will have what it takes to counter the usual IPS contrast issues.

Talking of picture processing, the 55DX650 enjoys a decently powerful quad-core 'brain', but doesn't benefit from the proven quality of Panasonic's new Studio HCX processing platform. Nor does it benefit from 3D playback – you'll need to step up to the Panasonic DX750 series if you want that.

Smart features

Getting back to the good news, the 55DX650's smart TV system delivers a potent combination of the Firefox TV OS and Freeview Play. The latter provides access to the four main UK catch-up TV platforms, either via dedicated apps or a listings system that lets you scroll back seven days as well as forwards – this really is an excellent way of bringing the worlds of live TV and on-demand streamed TV together in a more or less seamless way.

Panasonic TX 55DX650 review

Firefox is not, perhaps, the most app-rich smart TV OS in town – but I'd argue that it doesn't need to be. Smart TV operating systems always work best, it seems to me, when they focus on and prioritise the sort of apps that actually deliver features useful to TVs – predominantly, video streaming platforms and content finding/management utilities.

Plus, Firefox uses a colourful, straightforward and ultra-customisable interface that's second only to LG's super-slick webOS platform when it comes to good old-fashioned usability.